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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

MEN OF MATHEMATICS
capital - practically every penny the young man earned went
to the support of his parents and the barest necessities of his
own meagre existence - Boole now cast an appraising eye over
the gentlemanly professions. The Army at that time was out of
his reach as he could not afford to purchase a commission. The
Bar made obvious financial and educational demands which he
had no prospect of satisfying. Teaching, of the grade in which
he was then engaged, was not even a reputable trade, let alone
a profession. "What remained? Only the Church. Boole resolved
to become a clergyman.
In spite of all that has been said for and against God, it must
be admitted even by his severest critics that he has a sense of
humour. Seeing the ridiculousness of George Boole's ever be-
coming a "clergyman, he skilfully turned the young man's eager
ambition into less preposterous channels. An unforeseen afflic-
tion of greater poverty than any they had yet enjoyed com-
pelled Boole's parents to urge their son to forego all thoughts
of ecclesiastical eminence. But his four years of private prepara-
tion (and rigid privation) for the career he had planned were
not wholly wasted; he had acquired a mastery of French,
German, and Italian, all destined to be of indispensable service
to him on his true road.
At last he found himself. His father's early instruction now
bore fruit. In his twentieth year Boole opened up a civilized
school of his own. To prepare his pupils properly he had to
teach them some mathematics as it should be taught. His
interest was aroused. Soon the ordinary and execrable text-
books of the day awoke his wonder, then his contempt. Was this
stuff mathematics? Incredible. "What did the great masters of
mathematics say? Like Abel and Galois, Boole went directly to
great headquarters for his marching orders. It must be remem-
bered that he had had no mathematical training beyond the
rudiments. To get some idea of his mental capacity we can
imagine the lonely student of twenty mastering, by his own
unaided efforts, the Mecanique celeste of Laplace, one of the
toughest masterpieces ever written for a conscientious student
to assimilate, for the mathematical reasoning in it is full of gaps
and enigmatical declarations that It is easy to see', and then
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